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Chesapeake Bay News

Jul
28
2015

Photo Essay: Researching the headwaters of the Chesapeake

The calm, mirror-like surface of Otsego Lake is the subject of history and legend. Nicknamed “Glimmerglass” by James Fenimore Cooper, the author describes the lake in his work The Deerslayer as “a bed of the pure mountain atmosphere compressed into a setting of hills and woods.” The narrow, finger-like lake runs nine miles from north to south, coming to a point at Cooperstown, New York, where it marks the start of the Susquehanna River. Hop into a boat and follow the current, and a winding, 464-mile journey downriver will eventually drop you in the Chesapeake Bay. At first glance, the lake’s tranquil surface may seem humble beginnings for a mighty river that churns billions of gallons of fresh water into the nation’s largest estuary each day. But Otsego is a flurry of activity, home to a rich diversity of critters, habitats and ecosystems.

Dr. Bill Harman, Director of the SUNY Oneonta Biological Field Station in Cooperstown, N.Y., walks along the station's dock on Otsego Lake while an undergraduate parasitology class prepares to catch fish specimens on May 22, 2015. The Biological Field Station has grown to encompass 2,600 acres supporting laboratories, classrooms, offices, equipment and conserved land.

Alongside the shores of Otsego Lake sits the Biological Field Station, a laboratory that serves the State University of New York (SUNY) College at Oneonta, where researchers work year-round to study and preserve the lake. In 1967, the field station began as a 365-acre donation from the Clark Family Foundation. Now, the field station’s facilities— which include the main laboratory, a farm and boathouse, and various research sites and conserved lands—span more than 2,600 acres. Director Bill Harman, a professor of biology, has led the Biological Field Station for the entirety of its more than 40 year existence. As resident Otsego expert, Harman oversees the monitoring, research, training, workshops and field trips at the field station’s facilities.

John Montemarano, a sophomore biology major, casts a line on Otsego Lake while trying to catch fish with his classmates for a parasitology lab.

Hands-on learning opportunities are abundant across the waters, marshes and forests surrounding Otsego Lake. Field trips, summer internships and general research bring kindergarteners through post-graduates to the field station’s facilities. Students of SUNY Oneonta’s Master of Lake Management program—the first such program in North America—complete their studies at the Biological Field Station, sampling, monitoring and researching the waters of Otsego Lake. Local residents and other visitors are also welcome to explore and can participate in lake monitoring alongside the field station’s scientists.

Bill Harman, who founded the Biological Field Station in 1968 and remains its Director, poses at the field station’s Thayer Boathouse overlooking Otsego Lake. The Biological Field Station was recently first in the country to offer a Master of Science degree in Lake Management.

Though located far from the Chesapeake Bay itself, Otsego Lake suffers from many of the same issues threatening the estuary, like nutrient pollution and a rise in invasive species. Zebra mussels and purple loosestrife—two infamous invasive species plaguing the watershed—have overtaken much of the lake and surrounding lands. Once a rich source of shad, herring and eels, downstream dams have blocked many of these fish from migrating to the lake. But Harman and his colleagues don’t see Otsego as a closed system. As they collect their data and monitor the lake, they are actively seeking solutions that could be applied across the region.

Harman holds a flip-flop found in Otsego Lake that has been covered with invasive zebra mussels in Cooperstown, N.Y., on May 22, 2015. The invasive mussel will establish itself on any hard submerged surface and exclude other species.

Preserved cisco specimens rest inside a jar at the SUNY Oneonta Biological Field Station in Cooperstown, N.Y., on May 22, 2015. Cisco were once a dominant industry on the lake.

Nicole Pedisich, a senior biology major, retrieves largemouth bass from Moe Pond while seining with Ben Casscles, bottom right, a senior studying fisheries and aquaculture, and David Busby, a junior environmental science major, at the SUNY Oneonta Biological Field Station in Cooperstown, N.Y., on May 22, 2015.

Casscles, left, and Busby pump the stomach contents of a largemouth bass collected from Moe Pond. The team observed this individual had eaten mostly macroinvertebrates.

Harman walks along a closed boardwalk at Goodyear Swamp Sanctuary. The Biological Field Station has had to close access to the swamp due to a lack of funds for maintenance.

Goodyear Swamp Sanctuary in Cooperstown, N.Y., offers five acres of conserved wetlands. The land was donated by Tom Goodyear, who also donated farmland for the site of the nearby Alice Busch Opera Theater in Cooperstown.

A snapping turtle rests just below the surface at Goodyear Swamp Sanctuary.

A leaf-eating beetle crawls on a heavily-devoured purple loosestrife plant at Goodyear Swamp Sanctuary. The non-native leaf beetle was successfully introduced to combat the invasive purple loosestrife, which has in turn experienced a severely diminished presence at Goodyear Swamp.

Biology seniors Jill Darpino, left, and Genna Schlicht, right, eat lunch with Assistant Professor Florian Reyda during a break from their parasitology field course at the Biological Field Station’s Upland Interpretive Center at Thayer Farm.

A pair of taxidermied passenger pigeons reside at Thayer Farm. Many specimens owned by SUNY Oneonta decorate the Biological Field Station’s facilities.

A student extracts a parasite from a fish specimen caught earlier in the day on Otsego Lake.

Kristen Dispensa, a senior biology major, examines a dissected fish specimen with Assistant Professor Florian Reyda inside the Thayer Farm's Hop House Parasitology and Entomology Laboratory.

A disease-resistant Princeton elm tree, right, grows at the edge of Thayer Farm, which is actively farmed and studied. Thayer Farm's 256 acres were donated to the Biological Field Station by Rufus Thayer, a descendant of William Thayer, who established the farm around the start of the 1800s.

To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Flickr page.

Images and captions by Will Parson
Text by Stephanie Smith

Will Parson's avatar
About Will Parson - Will is the Multimedia Specialist for the Chesapeake Bay Program. A native of Bakersfield, California, he acquired an interest in photojournalism while studying ecology and evolution at University of California, San Diego. He pursued stories about water and culture as a graduate student at Ohio University's School of Visual Communication, and as an intern at several newspapers in New England before landing in Maryland.



Jul
23
2015

Chesapeake Executive Council releases plans to restore and protect Bay watershed

Today, the Chesapeake Executive Council announced the release of twenty-five management strategies outlining the Chesapeake Bay Program’s plans to meet the goals of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, advancing the restoration, conservation and protection of the Bay, its tributaries and the lands that surround them.

Nicholas DiPasquale, Director of the Chesapeake Bay Program, delivers the Chesapeake Bay Agreement management strategies to the Chesapeake Executive Council Chair, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, at the Chesapeake Bay Program 2015 Executive Council Meeting at the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C., on July 23, 2015.

Members of the Executive Council—which represents the seven watershed jurisdictions, a tri-state legislative commission and federal agencies—met to review the state of the Bay Program and finalize the strategies at their annual meeting, held at the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C.

In addition to announcing the strategies, the Executive Council passed two resolutions—first, endorsing the recommendations of the State Riparian Forest Buffer Task Force and committing to collaborative efforts that will increase the miles of forests on agricultural lands, and second, that the Bay Program hold a symposium on financing environmental restoration efforts. Members also agreed to two joint letters, one supporting programs to keep livestock out of streams and another supporting funding in the President’s 2016 budget for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), which includes more than $33 million for the Rivers of the Chesapeake collaborative proposal.

“Our partnership to restore the Bay continues to move forward,” said Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, Executive Council Chair, in a release. “We recognize the significant challenges we face and look forward to meeting them head on to ensure the restoration of our ecologic and economic treasure, the Chesapeake Bay.”

The Chesapeake Executive Council members and representatives pose during the annual Executive Council Meeting at the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C., on July 23, 2015.

Each management strategy addresses one or more of the Watershed Agreement’s thirty-one measurable, time-bound outcomes that will help create a healthy watershed. They will reduce nutrient and sediment pollution; ensure our waters are free of the effects of toxic contaminants; sustain blue crabs, oysters and forage fish; restore wetlands, underwater grass beds and other habitats; conserve farmland and forests; foster engaged and diverse citizen stewards through increased public access and education; and increase the climate resiliency of the watershed’s resources, habitats and human communities.

L. Scott Lingamfelter, Chair of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, speaks during the 2015 Chesapeake Executive Council Meeting at the National Arboretum in Washington, D.C., on July 23, 2015.

Considerable public input was sought and received which had a substantial impact on the content of the management strategies, representing a collaborative effort between Bay Program partners, academic institutions, local governments, non-governmental organizations, businesses and citizens. Stakeholders throughout the region participated in the development of the strategies and submitted hundreds of comments during the public review period. In the continued work toward accomplishing the goals of the Watershed Agreement, Bay Program partners are currently drafting two-year work plans that summarize the specific commitments, short-term actions and resources required for success.

Prior to this year’s annual meeting, Governor McAuliffe met to discuss recommendations from the local government, citizen and scientific communities with the council’s three advisory committees—the Citizens Advisory Committee, the Local Government Advisory Committee and the Science and Technical Advisory Committee.

Learn more about the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement or the 2015 Executive Council Meeting.



Jul
20
2015

By the Numbers: 8 ounces

In the rivers and streams of Pennsylvania, you can find channel catfish, small and largemouth bass, white perch and rainbow trout. But the persistence of toxic contaminants in the Delaware, Ohio and Susquehanna river basins has limited the amount of fish you can consume from the Commonwealth’s waters.

Anglers fish for hickory shad on the Susquehanna River.

Mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and other toxic contaminants pose risks across the United States. Toxics enter the environment through air pollution, agricultural and urban runoff, and wastewater discharged from industrial and municipal treatment plants. Toxics bind to sediment, build up in the tissues of fish and move through the food web through a process called bioaccumulation. Because of the health risks associated with the frequent consumption of fish affected by toxics—birth defects and cancer among them—Pennsylvania has advised people to consume no more than eight ounces of locally caught sport fish in a given week.

Pennsylvania isn’t the only state in the watershed coping with contaminants. According to data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 74 percent of the tidal Chesapeake Bay is partially or fully impaired by toxics. And all states in the watershed have issued fish consumption advisories as a result.

Image courtesy Sergey Ryzhov/Shutterstock.

Of course, most fish consumption advisories aren’t meant to stop the consumption of all locally caught fish, unless Do Not Eat is shown in an advisory listing. Some people are more at-risk (pregnant and breast-feeding women, women of childbearing age, and children), and some fish are safer to eat (smaller, younger fish and those species that are not as fatty as their catfish, carp or eel counterparts). For most, the benefits of eating fish can be gained as long as you choose a safe place to fish, pick a safe species to eat, trim and cook your catch correctly, and follow recommended meal frequencies.

Through the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, the Chesapeake Bay Program has committed to reviewing the latest research on toxic contaminants and improving the practices and controls that would reduce their effects. Learn more about our efforts to further toxic contaminants research and policy and prevention.

Catherine Krikstan's avatar
About Catherine Krikstan - Catherine Krikstan is a web writer at the Chesapeake Bay Program. She began writing about the watershed as a reporter in Annapolis, Md., where she covered algae blooms and climate change and interviewed hog farmers and watermen. She lives in Washington, D.C.



Jul
17
2015

How Green is Your Deen?

Faith plays an influential role in the lives of billions of people in the world, with about 84 percent identifying with a religious group. As Ramadan, a month-long ritual focused on self-purification and refocusing attention to faith, comes to an end for roughly 1.6 billion Muslims around the world, it is a good time to reflect on the intersection between conviction and nature.

Green Muslims, a Washington, D.C., based organization with the mission of helping their community live in the environmental spirit of Islam, began with a conversation between a group of friends about how to ‘green’ their Ramadan. At first they took small measures, like switching to reusable plates and having zero-trash iftars, or evening meals, when they could break their fasts. Those simple actions set off a chain reaction of stewardship within the community that led to the formal establishment of Green Muslims as a volunteer organization in 2007.

The nonprofit works with a number of different Muslim communities in the D.C. area, but serves as a national resource for those across the country that are looking to tie their faith back to the natural world. “There is really a passion and a yearning for learning more about what our tradition is amongst the Muslim community everywhere, and we hope to provide those resources and incubate that energy to take it to the next level,” said Colin Christopher, Executive Director of Green Muslims.

Participants and instructors make pinwheels while learning about wind and other renewable energy sources during the "Our Deen is Green!" program held at Peirce Mill in Washington, D.C., on April 25. Green Muslims is a D.C.-based nonprofit organization that engages communities in spiritually-inspired environmental education, reflection, and action.

With many youths spending an increasing amount of time indoors, exposure to and connections with the natural world are lost, often times leading to rises in health problems like allergies and obesity. In a push to alleviate nature deficit disorder, Green Muslims launched the ‘Our Deen is Green’ Youth Outdoor Education Program this year. The program offers a wide range of field trips to places like the Chesapeake Bay, farms and conserved lands to demonstrate real life examples of how Islam and the environment are intertwined.

Each trip offers themed lessons that cover subjects such as, water, food waste and renewable energy. The goal of the program is to reconnect the participants with outdoor spaces and encourage healthy behavior changes, like wiser food choices and increased awareness about human impacts on the planet. “In Islam, we understand that God has an amount of trust in us as Khalifas, or stewards of the Earth. We really see our responsibility as people who need to conserve and protect the natural environment; we are called to do so, it’s our responsibility,” said Christopher.

Colin Christopher is Executive Director of Green Muslims, which was founded in 2007 and recently attained status as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization. “Our mission at Green Muslims is Muslims living in the environmental spirit of Islam,” Christopher said.

The final trip of the year was to Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C., where the kids toured the historic Peirce Mill and learned how the Earth’s natural processes like water flow and wind create energy that can be harnessed with minimal negative impacts to the environment. Prior to touring the mill, all eight kids sat contently in a circle making windmills out of paper and pencils while discussing where their energy comes from. “Why are we always talking about water?” asks a young boy. “Because we are made of water,” replies Christopher. A look of awe falls over the children’s faces. The importance of water is a theme that weaves through all lessons taught during the program.

The Qur’an has hundreds of verses that talk about water, animals, wind and the sun, and Sharia, or Islamic law, directly translates into ‘the pathway to the water source’—meaning that protecting water is of utmost importance in the tradition of Islam. “Every part of our natural environment is integral to the greater whole. In Islam, we talk about, if you have one limb that is unhealthy then the entire body is unhealthy and sick. So, the Chesapeake Bay is a really integral part of that entire ecosystem and we can’t afford to neglect the Bay or other parts of our ecosystem," explained Christopher.

Ailya Gillani, a high school student from Sterling, Va., and a participant in Green Muslims’ “Our Deen is Green!” program, poses at home with her mother, Nighat Nasim, and father, Syed Abid Gillani. “I could say that the environment does have a big influence in our religion, and vice-versa," Gillani said.

Although the organization aims to spread awareness about the link between Islam and the environment, Christopher believes that diversity is the backbone of the Muslim community and welcomes anyone, regardless of faith, to volunteer and participate in Green Muslim events. “I think that the challenges we face relate to education. There is a lot of misinformation about Islam and what Islam is,” noted Christopher. “We are trying to bring back the teachings of our traditions within our community and explain that conservation, moderation and love for creation are core components of our tradition.”

To view more photos, visit the Chesapeake Bay Program’s Flickr page.

Images by Will Parson
Text by Jenna Valente

Jenna Valente's avatar
About Jenna Valente - Jenna developed a passion for conservation through her outdoorsy nature and upbringing in Hawaii, Washington State and Maine. A graduate of Virginia Tech's Executive Master of Natural Resources program and University of Maine's School of Communication and Journalism, she welcomes any opportunity to educate the public about the importance of caring for the environment.



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